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China Beats the U.S. In Supercomputing Prowess

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A computer server inside a data center.Neville Elder—Corbis via Getty Images

China continues to lead the world in supercomputing.

A new Chinese supercomputer called Sunway TaihuLight is the world’s most power machine, according to the TOP500 organization, whose researchers compile a biannual global listing of the top supercomputers. TOP500 released the new supercomputer rankings on Monday in Frankfurt, Germany during the International Supercomputing Conference.

Sunway TaihuLight overtakes the top spot from the Chinese supercomputer Tianhe-2, which TOP500 said in November was the world’s leading supercomputer at the time. TaihuLight, which is currently being used at the National Supercomputing Center the Chinese city of Wuxi, is three times as powerful as Tianhe-2, according to TOP500. This is the seventh straight time that a Chinese supercomputer has topped the rankings.

The new top supercomputer was also built with “exclusively based technology developed in China,” touted Top500. This is noteworthy because of the belief held by some researchers that Chinese supercomputers require foreign technology to effectively compete with other countries’ supercomputers, according to Top500.

Tianhe-2, for example, uses Intel processors whereas TaihuLight employs a new ShenWei processor, which was built in China.

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“As the first number one system of China that is completely based on homegrown processors, the Sunway TaihuLight system demonstrates the significant progress that China has made in the domain of designing and manufacturing large-scale computation systems,” said Wuxi-based National Supercomputing Center director Dr. Guangwen Yang in a statement.

Additionally, China has overtaken the U.S. in the amount of supercomputers being used. China now has 167 supercomputers in use whereas the U.S. has 165 similar machines.

The report’s authors noted that “generically named Internet service providers and a number of anonymous commercial firms” helped boost China’s numbers, and that these machines are probably not running the type of typical daily supercomputing tasks that researchers expect of the machines. However, the authors said that this practice also occurs in the U.S. and other countries, “so it’s difficult to make objective comparisons.”

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The Top500 researchers also shared some interesting tidbits about some big U.S. technology companies, notably Intel (INTC) and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), in regards to the supercomputing list. HPE maintains the most supercomputers in the world with 127 machines, while Intel “totally dominates other chipmakers in systems using their processors.”